Plain text project management

Updated: Feb 15, 2024

Since falling out with Notion, I’ve been on the hunt for a simple project management tool for managing projects, both client and personal.

Working independently, I rarely find the need for collaboration features that a team may find useful. What I need is something that doesn’t get in the way of actually doing the work. Ideally something that meets following criteria:

  • Simple, fast and reliable
  • Easy to host wherever I want
  • Works without an internet connection
  • Will scale over the long term without any limits
  • Stores data in text files (preferably Markdown) and folders
  • No vendor lock-in, tying me in to using a certain application
  • Private and secure
  • Open-source

I’m a massive fan of static site generators, which tend to support much of what I’ve listed above. Perhaps that’s how I ended up here?

Either way, these requirements make sense to me. So I’ve begun to seek out sofware that meets this criteria. And, it seems there’s a new wave of software applications being built with these things in mind.

Obsidian is one of these apps. And it ticks all the boxes.

Under the hood, Obsidian is just a bunch of plain-text files and folders, much like any other file or folder on your system. This means it’s simple, fast and reliable. It works great without an internet connection and it will scale without any issues, over the long term.

Content in Obsidian is stored in what’s known as a Vault. A vault is private and secure by default and can be hosted locally, or remotely in the cloud, so you’re always in full control of your content.

Content is written in Markdown, which is a widely supported content format, meaning you’re not tied in to using the application. Should Obsidian disappear one day, or you choose to move to a different software in the future, it’s very easy to get hold of your content and take it elsewhere. Reading what Steph Ango, the founder of Obsidian, has to say, it sounds like file over app is very much part of the philosophy behind Obsidian.

Using Obsidian is a lot like working with a static site generator, in a way. You have content files, you have content templates, you can even link between notes, like you would pages on a website.

Although it’s marketed as a note-taking app for personal knowledge management, I’ve been using Obsidian for project management, to good effect, with a very simple workflow.

  1. Add a new note to a projects folder for every new project.
  2. Create a todo list of tasks to complete inside each project note.
  3. When all tasks are complete, move the project note to an archive folder.

Plain text project management. It couldn’t be simpler.

This is typically all I need to manage a project, these days. A plain text file, a content template and a simple todo list.

Inevitably, at some point, I may find a client needs access to a kanban type project board, for a more collaborative experience. In this situation, something simple like Trello is probably now what I’d turn to.

For everything else, Obsidian is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

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